I have no opinion. I'm too busy with SpongeBob and Patrick to watch that stuff. But the people at Fox care. And sources say Fox is talking to a tiny San Francisco company named Exgage to try to engage with its millions of viewers -- and create a community without being too direct and obvious about it.
I heard Exgage's CEO is Michael Winner, the former CTO of Passenger and Blinklogic, and an old contact of mine. So I called him. While he's close-lipped about what exactly the company plans to announce on Feb. 14, he did confirm that Exgage is working on "an open cloud-based social media system" that can be "brandable or anonymous."
Sources close to Winner and a quick skim through patent filings, though, show Exgage is working on something a bit more ambitious. The little 25-employee company is talking to American Idol execs, Walmart execs and others about its business intelligence solution, which allows social media branders to anonymously gather and even poll their users using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks.
"It's essentially a fly on the wall we're offering them," a source familiar with the talks said. "A fly in the wall that could provide data on millions of people in branded communities." This is business intelligence, apparently, but on a wider -- and on a virtually live -- scale.
Companies like Passenger, Jive, Communispace, Lithium and others are closed communities, I should point out. Judging from the information on its website and what Winner and sources say, Exgage is open and it will scale more widely -- potentially allowing branders to anonymously perform almost live polls and to create deep metrics based on discussions and activities.
On Exgage's website, HTML5 and CSS support preclude Internet Explore version 9 usage. Mobile use is obviously a motive here. According the US Patent Office, the company has filed a provisional that covers the anonymous culling of information from social networks.
On the record, Winner will say that his system will be open -- with no API restrictions -- and that if Exgage were to offer an open system, it would do so for free for not-for-profits such as the Environmental Protection Agency. I personally know that is one of Winner's favorite causes. "There is no reason why communities have to be closed and so unaffordable," he told me.
Keep an eye on this one.
For Informationweek and the upcoming BYTE.com, I'm Gina Smith.